How to Hire a Designer or Developer

November 23, 2010

Hiring designers or developers can be one of the most difficult things for non-technical business people to do. In many cases, it may be necessary, of course, to hire someone to create your website, build custom systems, or design your sales collateral — all the more necessary if you aren’t a designer or developers yourself. But how can small business owners hire someone that’s right for the job if they don’t really understand what goes into that job in the first place?

How can you do your due diligence even when you don’t completely grasp the type of thing you might be hiring someone to do?

Here are four tips that will help you hire a designer or developer and make sure you’re getting what you paid for:

1. Seek Recommendations

Any search for developers or designers should start with your peers. Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations of people they have worked with in the past. Do you like the website of the hardware store down the street from your restaurant? Find out who made it and how much it cost. Did you overhear a business owner at the last Chamber of Commerce meet-up mention their new, custom-made order database? Ask them who made it and if their experience with the developer was positive.

Even if you’re hiring someone full-time, rather than a freelancer, you can still seek recommendations from your peers and from the job candidate’s peers. Niche communities like Working With Rails (a community for Ruby on Rails developers) and LinkedIn allow members to endorse one another. While other sites, such as Dribbble (a community for graphic designers), can give you a sense of how others in the industry view the person you’re considering hiring for a job.

Also, don’t be hesitant to ask for recommendations from the designer or developer directly. “Don’t be afraid to ask for references from a developers’ or designers’ previous clients,” said freelance web developer Richard Session. “I was asked this recently by a new client and I think the information they received about me helped put me over the top in winning the contract.”

2. Ask Lots of Questions

Asking questions is important for any hiring process, of course, but it’s especially important when you’re hiring for a position or project you don’t quite understand on a technical level.

When hiring a freelance developer or designer, be sure to inquire about each candidate’s process. When will you receive deliverables? When will payments be due? How will rights be assigned? Knowing how a freelancer works beforehand and avoiding miscommunication will save time and headache in the long run.

You also want to make sure you understand what tools the person you’re hiring uses and what formats your project will be delivered in. If your designer sends you AI files when your printer requires EPS, you’ll need to know up front if the designer you’ve chosen can deliver what you need in the specifications you require. There’s also a huge difference, for example, between a site built on a common backend like WordPress and a custom solution created by the developer, said Session. While the latter might offer more flexibility, the former will be easier for a future developer to work with and modify.

Be specific in talking about what you want, and don’t be afraid to ask your job candidate to clarify or explain things you don’t understand. If he can’t explain to you what he’s talking about in a way that satisfies you, that might be an indication that you need to hire someone else.

When hiring someone for a full-time position, web developer Daniel Tenner, the CTO and co-founder of Woobius, has a good list of the types of things you should look for. (Though Tenner’s article focuses on hiring developers, it applies generally to designers as well.) The chief characteristic you should look for in a new hire is passion. You want to hire someone that’s passionate about design or development, gets excited about new technologies or techniques, and does this stuff in his spare time.

3. Learn the Basics

You’re hiring an expert for a reason, but it’s still important to learn the basics. Knowing the difference between PHP and Ruby (they’re both backend web programming languages), or knowing when to use CSS and when to use tables (the former is for front end code on websites and the latter is for displaying tabular data) will go a long way toward helping you hire the right person for the job.

You might never be able to debate the merits of various JavaScript frameworks with your potential hires, and that’s okay. But you should be able to understand what they’re talking about when they tell you they plan to use JavaScript to animate transitions between images in a slideshow on your site — you should be able to decide if that’s something you even want.

There are plenty of places around the Internet where you can learn a little bit about web development or graphic and web design. If you’re hiring a designer, for example, you might want to take a look at some beginner Photoshop tutorials. Armed with knowledge of the basics, you’ll be better equipped to interview a prospective hire (and your BS detectors will function at a higher and more accurate level).

4. Get Help from Friends

Even with a firm grasp of the basic concepts behind web design and development, it can be next to impossible for a non-technical small business owner to evaluate code or compare quotes from competing applicants. That’s why it can be extremely helpful to have a friend or colleague that can act as a mentor and help you pick out quality applicants.

“Get a mentor/advisor in the applicable field if you’re at all unsure of what you’re looking for,” said Kyle Bragger, founder of web design and developer community site Forrst. According to Bragger, non-technical business owners can “benefit from having someone in your corner, so to speak, who’s able to help you through the ever-so-important process of finding tech and design [employees].”

Of course, not everyone has access to someone who knows enough about web design or development to sufficiently evaluate a project quote or job application. If you don’t have a friend or colleague in your corner that’s able or willing to lend a hand, one way to meet such a person is to attend tech meet-ups in your local area. You may even find someone you’d like to hire for a job at such a gathering and skip the middleman altogether!

If you’ve recently hired a designer or developer, add your hiring tips in the comments below.

By Josh Catone

Josh Catone is the Features Editor at Mashable. Before joining Mashable in May 2009, Josh was the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, the Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID. He’s written about technology since 1998 for magazines, newspapers, and web sites, and he is the co-founder of Rails Forum, the web’s largest community for Ruby on Rails developers. He attended the University of Rhode Island and Ithaca College.


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